When we think about legal innovation, the idea of experienced lawyers starting a new firm is admittedly pretty far down the list. We run through the usual list of legal technology, startups, and technology tools in areas such as document management and smart contracts long before we think of the innovation possible by actually forming a new law firm.
Yet this month’s formation of a new "super firm" in Pennsylvania is a perfect example of how sometimes the best legal entrepreneurs already have the greatest track record of success.
Being a legal entrepreneur involves massive risk, especially for well-established lawyers leaving great firms. But fundamental to entrepreneurship in the law, technology, or any area is an appreciation of the risk-reward horizon. Often, to get the most in return, an entrepreneur needs to put the most on the line.
Case in point: Philadelphia’s Kila Baldwin. Often touted as one of the most successful female lawyers in the nation, she is simply among the most successful lawyers period. Baldwin has long been recognized as one of the nation’s leading trial lawyers for high-end catastrophic injuries related to medical malpractice, product liability, and personal injury matters.
Baldwin was lead or co-lead in vaginal mesh cases resulting in verdicts of $80 million, $57.1 million, and $40 million, and was also on the trial team that received a $109 million verdict in a downed power line case in Allegheny County.
Most recently, Baldwin obtained a $9.7 million verdict in a neurosurgical medical malpractice case, with the product liability portion of that case previously settling for $12.75 million. Baldwin also previously participated in the settlement of a class action case for $35 million and a catastrophic birth injury case for $20 million and received an $8.75 million verdict against Ford for a defective parking brake.
Earlier this month, Baldwin announced the formation of Baldwin Matzus LLC, a new venture she formed with Jason Matzus and Joe Froetschel, both based in Pittsburgh.
Baldwin told Legal Intelligencer that while she had years of success at the highest level of the profession with her previous firm, Philadelphia’s Kline & Specter, “I really felt like it was time to go out on my own and frankly not live in their shadow anymore.”
So what makes Baldwin Matzus a super firm? Part of the legal innovation in forming this new firm comes from how they conceive of service to their clients and to the plaintiff’s bar organizations that advance their clients' interests.
All three partners have served in various roles with the Pennsylvania Association for Justice (PAJ). As the incoming president, Baldwin has worked closely with Matzus and Froetschel on a range of initiatives within PAJ. Matzus is a past president while Froetschel is a member of the board of governors. Both their friendship and desire to work more closely together were formed working with PAJ - an organization so deeply committed to protecting injury victim rights and advancing issues benefiting trial lawyers
But while collegiality among new law firm partners is good to have, it’s critically important that truly innovative new legal ventures have a strong value proposition. For Baldwin Matzus, there are three key elements to their value proposition:
- Be servant leaders. For Baldwin Matzus, this means protecting injury victims’ rights legislatively and elevating the plaintiff’s bar in Pennsylvania to benefit other lawyers.
- Serve a cause larger than yourself. They want to make sure that the firm positively impacts the communities it serves. They also see this as being a fundamental part of legal entrepreneurship moving forward.
- Create a firm culture and environment where, in the words of Jason Matzus, “We create a meaningful environment for people to come to work and do the best work of their career.”
The firm’s value proposition deeply resonates with me, in part because I have taught entrepreneurship to undergraduates and graduate students at two major universities and launched one of the world’s first legal technology startup accelerators. While entrepreneurs far too often limit their focus to the technological side of what they’re building, the cultural side of a startup, just like a law firm, is often the differentiator between success and failure.
So when a firm’s bedrock philosophical foundation is, as Matzus described it to me, “the righteous pursuit of justice,” that really is a beacon for not only anybody working in or with the firm, but for its clients as well. Firms that deal with catastrophic injuries are seeing, as Legal Intelligencer described in their piece on this new super firm, cases that are the “worst of the worst,” in terms of the damages plaintiffs have endured.
So, from where I sit, new law firms that can bring experience, a compassionate perspective, and this kind of dedication to justice are exactly what the market has been asking for in terms of innovation. In terms every entrepreneur can understand, new innovative law firms provide solutions to existing important problems rather than provide solutions in search of a problem.
If, as Forbes reminds us, lawyers really are “a cautious bunch focused on precedent, risk containment, and tend to be reactive—not innovative,” innovation lies not in what given technology or which processes can in theory help lawyers achieve a goal, but in the hard yards earned by doing the work.
It’s precisely these hard yards we should be helping entrepreneurial and driven law students appreciate and attempt. To that end, Baldwin Matzus will be establishing partial tuition reimbursement scholarships at their alma maters, Temple Law and Pitt Law, for rising third-year law students who plan to become trial lawyers.
Professor Jules Epstein, Edward D. Ohlbaum Endowed Term Professor and Director of Advocacy Programs at Temple Beasley School of Law shared the importance of this gift:
“Kila Baldwin has had a remarkable career as a plaintiff's litigator, particularly in issues involving women's health. To have a scholarship in her new firm's name for a Temple Law student interested in litigation is not merely a financial aid for that individual. With her name and legacy attached to the award it will tell an important story - that of successful lawyering, successful women lawyering, and successful Temple alumna (J.D. 2004 , LL.M. in Trial Advocacy 2010) lawyering. This is the type of inspiration and model that will have lasting impact on the lives of lawyers-to-be.”
Epstein is also the Director of Advocacy Programs at Temple, a law school with an innovative trial advocacy program, which makes it the perfect fit as a partner for this new firm. Indeed, entrepreneurship takes many forms in the law and true legal entrepreneurs find many ways to contribute to the improvement of the profession.
That might be the most significant takeaway here from the formation of a super-firm whose greatest superpower is the ability to help others. As a legal innovator, you need to find your own superpower and surround yourself with those who not only share your vision but also your desire to turn ideas into action.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor of Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.